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Dive deep into the intriguing discussion around Deuteronomy 14:26, which appears to endorse the use of strong drink, despite other biblical passages decrying its consumption. Our article offers an enlightening interpretation, resolving this seeming inconsistency and providing a fresh perspective on biblical alcohol consumption. Explore the nuances of Bible contradictions and theological interpretations with us.
The verse in question, Deuteronomy 14:26, says, “and spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household.”
This passage is part of the instructions given to the Israelites concerning the celebration of the festival of the tithe, a celebration of thanksgiving to God for His provision. Here, it is suggested that the money from selling their tithes could be used to buy “whatever you desire,” including “strong drink.”
On the surface, this might seem at odds with other passages in the Bible, such as Proverbs 20:1, which warns, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.” These passages, however, are not contradicting each other.
In Deuteronomy 14:26, the instruction isn’t advocating for excessive or irresponsible drinking. It is simply stating that during this specific celebration, it was permissible to purchase strong drink as part of the festivities. Importantly, this allowance was within the context of a religious celebration, signifying joy and gratitude towards God.
The warnings found in Proverbs, on the other hand, are cautionary words against the misuse of alcohol, particularly excessive drinking that leads to drunkenness and the associated negative behaviors. These warnings do not contradict Deuteronomy 14:26 but rather provide an important framework within which it should be understood.
So, while Deuteronomy 14:26 acknowledges that strong drink can be part of celebratory occasions, other verses caution against its misuse, reinforcing the need for responsible behavior. These instructions reflect a balanced approach to the consumption of alcohol and are consistent when understood in their specific contexts.
The Bible mentions several terms which primarily represent various types of wine, such as Hebrew terms tirohsh, chemer, and their Aramaic equivalent chamar, along with the Greek term gleukos. However, the most recurrent term in scriptures is the Hebrew word yayin, which first shows up in Genesis 9:20-24, depicting Noah’s intoxication from wine he made after the Flood. Its Greek counterpart, oinos, appears first in Jesus’ discourse on the imprudence of using old wineskins for new, semi-fermented wine due to the potential bursting caused by fermentation pressure.
Numerous strong alcoholic beverages, likely made from pomegranates, dates, figs, and similar fruits, were generally indicated by the Hebrew term shekhar. The Hebrew term asis points to “the fresh juice” of pomegranates but is also used in contexts relating to wine. Beer may have been indicated by the Hebrew word sove.
In the wine-making process in Palestine, the grape harvest occurred around August and September, and the vintage season was almost completed by the beginning of autumn. Grapes were placed in limestone vats or troughs where men crushed them barefoot, often singing songs. This gentle method of crushing prevented the breakdown of stems and seeds, minimizing the extraction of tannic acid from the skins and thereby producing a higher-quality, smoother wine. Fermentation began approximately six hours after crushing and continued for several months. The alcohol content of natural wines ranges from 8 to 16 percent, which could be further increased by adding alcoholic spirits.
Throughout the aging period, wine was stored in jars or skin bottles. These containers likely had vents that allowed carbon dioxide, a byproduct of fermentation, to escape without letting oxygen in, thus preventing oxidation of the wine. As the wine settled, it clarified, and its bouquet and flavor improved. After this process, wines were usually transferred to other vessels.
Historically, wine has been a commonly consumed beverage, often accompanying meals. It has also been a significant part of banquets, wedding feasts, and other festive occasions. Furthermore, wine was a common item in trade and was used as payment for workers. It was also offered in sacrificial worship of Jehovah and was included in tithing contributions for the support of priests and Levites.
Wine also had medicinal value as an antiseptic and a mild disinfectant. The Bible even suggests it as a curative remedy for certain intestinal issues. Despite misconceptions, alcoholic beverages are not stimulants but rather sedatives and depressants of the central nervous system.
Evidently, wine is considered one of Jehovah’s blessings to humankind. It is symbolic of prosperity and security under Jehovah’s righteous rule and is included in the restoration blessings promised by Jehovah. The act of drinking wine is often associated with joy, celebration, and merriment, so much so that abstaining from wine was a sign of mourning.
Moderate Consumption. A fundamental tenet of the Bible is the practice of moderation in all aspects of life. For instance, honey, in moderation, is beneficial, but when consumed excessively, it can have harmful effects (Pr 25:27). Similarly, the divine gifts of wine and strong drinks should be used judiciously, as instructed. Overindulgence and the disregard of biblical principles in the usage of these substances can lead to debauchery and death, earning the disapproval of Jehovah. The Bible presents this standpoint emphatically, providing both guidelines and examples (Pr 23:29-31).
There may be situations where the consumption of alcohol, even in minor amounts, may not be conducive to one’s health. At other times, abstaining from alcoholic beverages could be a demonstration of love and consideration towards others, ensuring that they are not inadvertently led astray (Ro 14:21).
Jehovah explicitly commanded that priests and Levites, while performing their duties at the tabernacle or temple, should abstain from consuming any form of alcohol, with disobedience resulting in death (Le 10:8, 9; Eze 44:21). However, they were allowed to consume alcohol moderately during their off-duty hours (1Ch 9:29). Likewise, under the special Nazirite vow, the consumption of alcoholic beverages was strictly forbidden (Nu 6:2-4, 13-20; Am 2:12). As Samson was destined to be a Nazirite from birth, his mother was prohibited from consuming wine or liquor during her pregnancy (Jg 13:4, 5, 7, 14). “It is not for kings to drink wine or for high officials to say: ‘Where is intoxicating liquor?'” as they may “forget what is decreed and pervert the cause of any of the sons of affliction” (Pr 31:4, 5). Church leaders should not be ‘excessive drinkers,’ and deacons “must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain” (1Ti 3:3, 8).
Symbolic Interpretations. In ancient Babylon, Jehovah’s appointed executor, all nations were ‘intoxicated on wine,’ symbolizing Jehovah’s wrath against these nations (Jer 51:7). In several other passages, Jehovah’s adversaries are portrayed as being compelled to drink of God’s righteous indignation, which is equated to “wine [that] is foaming,” “the wine of rage,” “the wine of the anger of God” (Ps 75:8; Jer 25:15; Re 14:10; 16:19). Contrarily, a distasteful concoction unrelated to divine anger is “the wine of her [spiritual] fornication” that “Babylon the Great” compels all nations to consume (Re 14:8; 17:2; 18:3, 13).